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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How To Stick Out in the Stack.

New Experiences

As some of you may know, I began a new job a few weeks back.  I work for a human resources company that offers staffing and HR resources for companies throughout the western United States as well as select locations on the east coast. 

This experience has opened my eyes to many things that I thought I knew.  Several of these revolve around the recruiting and hiring process.

Photo courtesy of bionicteaching, Some Rights Reserved


I wanted to share with you one thing that I thought I was fairly competent in two weeks ago, but have since learned volumes about...resumes.

I have taken classes that taught how to write resumes, I have scoured websites, read blog posts and books and thought I had a fair handle on resume writing--after all, my high school business teacher used my resume as an example for like 6 years after I graduated!!

Yeah, not so much!

So here's when I realized exactly what is important in a resume: When I was on the other side of the table, reading 70+ resumes and trying to narrow them down to 4-5 that we would interview for an advertised position. 

In my few weeks at this job, we average 10-20 new applicants a day--that isn't counting emailed or mailed resumes, simply those people who physically walk into our branch office and fill out an application.  This may be more than most small businesses get, but here's the point:  The economy is tough and there is a lot of competion when you apply for a job. 

Here are four suggestions to help your resume stick out in the stack of resumes on the HR manager's desk:

1.     Don't Stretch.  Recruiters will often advertise for positions and not list the company for which you are actually applying.  If this is the case, do not, I repeat, do not use phrases like "I have wanted to work for your company for some time." or "I have great respect for your company and what you stand for".  Such phrases, when obviously not true or disingenuous, immediately turn off those reviewing your resume. 

If you do know the company, and honestly respect them, by all means, say so, but make sure it comes across as genuine...if they know it's just a tactic, it will fail every single time.   

2.     Job History.  As proud as you are of your job history, focus more on your skills than the jobs themselves.  If I am looking for a Customer Service Rep and you list your jobs prominently at the beginning of your resume as "Cashier", "Head Waiter" and "Construction Foreman" you will have painted a picture of who you are in my mind.  This picture may or may not be accurate, but it is still there.  You may actually be a great fit for the Customer Service Rep, but with dozens of resumes to review, you'll be passed up for someone else with job titles like "Bank Teller", "Administrative Assistant" and "Regional Sales Manager". 

How do you avoid this?  Focus on your skills.  List the skills you have acquired from being a cashier or construction foreman that will apply to a Customer Service position.  Skills like resolving customer concerns, assisting clients in making informed decisions, and setting and achieving goals and budgets.  This allows the recruiter or HR personnel to paint a picture in their mind of you fitting what they are looking for, rather than a picture of the person they think holds the job titles you listed.

3.     Don't put Objectives.  I'm going to be straight up, and this might make my high school business teacher mad at me, but...whoever came up with the idea of putting an objective at the beginning of a resume was completely stupid and never had to read through a stack of resumes!!!

When I read:
"Objective: To gain employment with a reputable company with good values where I can utilize my skills, grow as a person and have opportunities for growth."
Do you know what I think? NEXT!! 

Do you know why? Because I when I read that I hear:
"Its all about me, I want a company that will be fair to me, that will cater to my skills, spend their time and money to develop me into a better person and give me raises and promotions (or I will take the training they provided and go somewhere else that suits me)".
Even if you mean every word of your objective there are at least two reasons it's a bad idea. 1. The person reviewing your resume is busy, they aren't your mother and therefore don't have time to find out about your life's ambitions.  2. It makes you appear self centered (even if you aren't) and they are looking to fill a need they have, not a need you have.   So just delete the objective.

4.     Prove it.  My mentor showed me his resume the other day.  At the very top of his resume he listed "Achievements".  He has been interviewing people for employment for probably 15-20 years.  He said that the Achievements say all he needs to know about a person.  What have you done with your life?  "The proof's in the puddin'." , so to speak. 

And he didnt just list career achievements like "Took office revenue from $4 million to $10 million" He put things like "Married 20 years with 5 children", "Eagle Scout and Boy Scout Troup Leader", "President of local youth football league.", "Active member of Rotary International".  

Listing achievements from your business and personal life, volunteering and hobbies will say more about who you are to a hiring executive than any statements about how trustworthy, hard-working and considerate you may be.  Your achievements--business and otherwise--speak volumes.  Don't tell them who you are, show them through your accomplishments.

These are just a few impressions I have had from sitting on the other end of a resume.  I'm sure I'll come up with more, and when I do, I hope you'll indulge me when I share them. 

Take what you can use from this, "round file" the rest. 

But know this: If your resume doesn't stand out, you won't get an interview.  And if you don't get an interview, it's real hard to get hired, even if you're the most qualified person in your area code!

Question:  What will you do to improve your resume in the next few weeks?

If you find value in these posts, please share them with your friends, family and collegues. 

Twitter: @Skropp2


  1. You did it Mark. You made me look at my resume, and yes, my toes are a bit sore now. Love your points about the objectives and achievements. I think we tend to bury achievements in the experience, and forget to include the things like family, church and community activities. That shows a multi-dimensional person who can manage more than just work. Great post!

    1. Thanks Carol! Glad it helped. It's amazing what the change in perspective did to drive home things I THOUGHT I knew about crafting a resume!
      On a side note, it was great to hear your question on the Entre podcast!

  2. Excellent post. Ban the objective statement, highlight transferable skills and don't list every job you've ever had.

    Glad you're liking the new job!!!

    1. Thanks! quite the compliment from "Miss How to get and love your job" herself!

  3. Mark, excellent post! Very timely, considering the number of people looking for work. As I indicated in my Tweets, we have been churning through 150 resumes for one admin position, 150 resumes for three outreach coordinators and 50 resumes for a civil engineer. I have been seeing a lot of resumes lately! I agree about the objective statement: it is a waste of time to have it (and I won't be including one in the future). Listing achievements and results up front would be more interesting. Did you save your company money and complete the project? Did you interface with clients and the public? Do you have something more to you than just work (i.e., volunteering)? How are you going to help me build my business (or today for the agency: help me deliver this massive rail project)?

    As a Group Leader and a Branch Office Leader at engineering consulting firms, I took the pool of resumes and looked at relevant experience. I looked at achievements and accomplishments next, and finally I looked at the degree(s). Sometimes candidates have too much school and not enough practical experience, and I am afraid that this is the case of too many of today's graduates. That is a different topic, however. I would pick the best candidates, do initial phone screenings and then bring the best in for an interview.

    At a public agency, we have a couple of extra steps. We compare candidates against a list of position requirements/abilities/duties and score them. By adding up the candidate's score, we can rank the candidates from most likely to fill the role to least likely. Again, we are looking at abilities and really key in on previous experience. We are getting all kinds of candidates from 30 year leaders to new grads for one engineering position, so I really focus on the candidate's experience and how that person can fit into the specific role. We will conduct two interviews with panels once we get the best candidates. I have also decided that I will be screening them by phone before the first interview.

    Always remember: the person hiring you is always wondering how are you going to help solve the problem. It is RELEVANT experience that wins the day for me. A lot of schooling is great, but if you have no practical, relevant experience, I am passing you by. Get experience somehow: i.e., internship, a part time job related to it, volunteer. That is going to win the day and get the gate open for an interview.

    Finally, the resume DOES NOT win you the job; it opens the door for an interview.